April 19, 2011

Using SEE (Signed Exact English)

When I was taking ASL classes at a local community college, I was told by some teachers, who were hearing interpreters, that Signed Exact English (SEE) was not a language or should not be a language used with deaf people. One described it as an artificial language. These teachers told us that it was best that we refrain from using English signs. I could understand that we should focus on trying to use ASL when mingling with various deaf people, especially the Deaf cultured ones. But, when I tried to ask about whether there are deaf people who use SEE or parents who use SEE with their children, they did not have much information about this.

The only teacher who could give me some information about this was a deaf teacher. She told me about how she will use ASL with some people and more of an English version with others. She told me that there was nothing wrong with using SEE, if the person feels more comfortable using it.

In a sense, SEE is an artificial language, manually. It is a code for the English language. It was developed in the 70s with the intention to help strengthen English language skills.

But wouldn't ASL be perceived as an artificial language by very young deaf children if used by typical hearing parents struggling to learn it while trying to use it consistently? If not artificial, choppy and awkward for sure. Of course, I am not saying ASL is an artificial language. It is a beautiful and interesting language, if used properly.

At least with SEE, parents, who speak English, would not have to worry about using a totally different grammatical structure. It would be way easier to learn than ASL, and it would be a way for them to communicate with their deaf child using a language they are most comfortable with; a language they know and use.

I have met a few people who had parents who used SEE with them. They were able to communicate with their parents at home effectively, while mastering the English language. At the same time, these people learned ASL at school or with their friends who use ASL (or should I say more like PSE), while they continued to use SEE at home with their parents. They told me that once their parents became more comfortable with using SEE, their parents relaxed and dropped a lot of the articles (the, a, and, etc.) and adopted more ASL signs.

I thought that was interesting. It shows that SEE can work, if used properly. It may not be a language (manually), but it represents one.

Any of you use SEE or did use SEE? 



  1. e),
    I have used SEE. It was one of the first signed systems I learned, ‘way back when ASL was not recognized as a language. (In fact, the prejudice was that language meant spoken.) There were at least two different SEE systems at that time.

    SEE is artificial for two reasons. Firstly, the SEE systems were created by people who sat down with the deliberate intent of creating a communication system, as Morse code was created. The other more technical reason is that AFAIK there has not yet been any multi-generational transmission of SEE used as the developers made it. Languages shift with multi-generational transmission and become “living languages”, as has happened with Hebrew, Gaelic, and more recently with Nicaraguan Sign Language

    I observed teachers use of SEE and family use of SEE. What I saw reflects your comments in your 6th paragraph. SEE is *very* tedious. Almost no one is obsessive enough to consistently sign proper English using SEE. What I observed was a pidgin or contact language that varied a great deal in how closely it reflected English, basically a tedious PSE. That meant that the supposed benefits for English literacy did not occur as advertised. I also heard of studies that showed little or no benefit with the use of SEE as compared with other sign systems. I do not recall the citations and this was before there were schools teaching Deaf children in a bilingual (ASL-English) program.

    From what I can “see”, SEE does not give benefits to justify the headaches.


  2. Adding to what David said - the brain is wired to acquire natural languages, not artificial systems.

    And often when someone is signing SEE, they drop signs and some SEE combinations don't even make sense and aren't accurate.

    ASL has accepted some signs that may be considered SEE, but only because it fits within the paradigms of what is considered acceptable for the language.

    I have met a few people who used SEE growing up, but not enough to make a judgement. However I can say that using SEE does not mean that someone develops fluent English skills.

  3. Random, but when my kid gets an interpreter who is versed in SEE he is very tired at the end of the school day. He tells me the language is in a line and not a dance that makes sense? I am not really sure how to interpret that concept into English

  4. Haddy2dogs.
    I agree! Watching an interpreter who is using SEE or even just signed English (PSE) is exhausting! Sometimes, though, it is unavoidable with professional conferences if there is no interpreter available who understands the topic well enough to translate into ASL. You have to let them sign the English they understand and fill in the gaps.

    What Haddy is referring to, if I may guess, is that ASL has many ways to communicate in a multi-channel fashion while English is linear. English and PSE do not make use of the facial and postural inflections of ASL, nor does PSE make use space for language. The result is that watching PSE or SEE for long stretches just really wears my eyes out.


  5. Good points! Glad to hear from those who have experienced using SEE. I agree SEE can be tedious. I would prefer not to use it when chatting or communicating with others. I suppose I would use PSE or a mixture of ASL and English signs.

    If a family decides to use SEE with their child or if they are not comfortable using ASL (for a number of reasons--no one else uses ASL, English signs are easier for them to learn and use with their child, their child seems to be benefiting from it, etc.), should I suggest that when communicating with their child, to use more ASL signs or PSE? Then, would it be appropriate for them to only use SEE during instructional settings (reading and writing English)?

    Thanks, would appreciate more comments on this!

  6. haddy2dogs-

    When your son described SEE as "language is in a line and not a dance" he may be saying that it is more linear than ASL--where ASL is more flexible and free flowing like a dance.

    What do you guys think?

  7. (OK, both typepad & LJ were refused by your website, so I'm posting anonymously...)

    I think "in a line and not a dance" is a brilliant way of describing this. Watching someone sign in SEE is amazingly tedious. I think it's very constraining, too. It doesn't take advantage of any of the natural things that a visual/movement oriented language could, and is based on a system that's great for speech, which *can't* represent certain things that a visual language can. I mean, all the effort for possessive markers and prepositions that a verbal language much describe can be so simply indicated in a visual context that it really doesn't make sense to draw a sentence out that way. I would actually encourage the parents to try and get comfortable with PSE if not ASL because I can see no benefits to forcing a child to communicate in SEE.

    Maybe *maybe* when reading out a book or working on some kind of English homework. But for everyday conversation? Think about the different forms English itself takes -- how slangy and quick you can be with your friends, how careful and formal you might be with your boss or an older person, the way things are expressed in a book (written English conventions and spoken English conventions are actually extremely different). Why force sign language to be all SEE?

    Of course not all parents are going to go for varying levels of fluency so sometimes you gotta work with what you gotta work with. But if they're interested and want to know, that's what I'd point out...


  8. This is why I want to take ASL classes instead of just picking it up; I really want to learn the proper structure of ASL without compromising my spoken English. ASL sounds more complicated to learn than SEE, but I would rather work harder to learn ASL and communicate more efficiently when signing to save my audience the headache of trying to understand me. The whole idea of learning ASL seems near impossible sometimes considering I'm a profoundly deaf lip reader that doesn't sign at all -- so it's a strain to learn sign language when I can't hear what's being signed in order to pick it up. I've also realized its hard to become a sign watcher when I've been watching LIPS for so long. Wow.... great discussion here guys -- I've got a lot to learn huh? Patience is going to be the key for this one...

    ** Laketa **

  9. You'll do fine Laketa. :)

  10. (e,

    As your ASL instructors told you, SEE is not a language, but I completely disagree with them about it being an "artificial language."

    SEE is considered a communication modality (mode) just like cued speech and Total Communication or Simultaneous Communication (SimCom).

    Noah Chomsky, among others, has indicated that a language must have 7 different indicators before it can be recognized as a language -- among the 7 requirements, it must have its own grammar structure, syntax, and can evolve over time. SEE does not fit ANY of the 7 indicators, so it is not an artificial language in the first place.

    SEE should not even be used, even by hearing parents. SEE confuses the sender and receiver because it signs in English word order. You cannot mix two languages at the same time. Imagine having to speak German and French at the same time? Well, the same applies for SEE and ASL.

    A parent should be learning ASL, not SEE. Or if a parent struggles with learning ASL, they can learn cued speech, which is recognized as a visual method of the English phonemes and provides the visual aspect of English in handshapes and does not confuse the parent nor the deaf child. The problem with cued speech is that it is assumed that cued speech has something to do with speaking skills. It does not.

    Cued speech only provides the sender and receiver a way to communicate through visual English using cues, instead of confusing them using SEE (which is linguistically incorrect and improper).

    I'm going a bit off tangent here, but I've been trained in Deaf Education and received training in linguistics, and SEE should never, ever, be used in any communication method.

    And, for the record, I grew up using SEE, and while it helped me learn reading and writing, it has screwed up my sense of linguistic interpretation because I'm now fluent in ASL.

    Twitter: @historyofck

  11. Laketa,
    I agree, you’ll do fine. With ASL the focus of attention is still the face, not the hands. So much ASL grammar and inflection is facial rather than manual. Most beginning signers make the mistake of focusing on the hands, so you’ll have a head start there.


  12. I think the best way to learn English is used spoken English itself. There are deaf who first language and ONLY language was SEE and they still stuggle with writing. One father have been using SEE for his son (his implants did not work for him at all) and noticed his son is still way behind in writing. He decided to switch to conceptually accurate signed English (CASE) . I think even if deaf can't benefit from CIs or HAs, they should have some speech therapy (no heavy therapy, just enough so he can pronounce phonics for reading aloud-he might need cued or visual phonic to help him out-...I had to read aloud alot) but use ASL for social and education. Of course they can learn english without speech or
    hearing or even SEE, but English is based on spoken, and every else come after you know spoken form of English (writing, morse, SEE --created by people who know spoken English, deaf people would not create SEE unless they heard spoken english too)-- It just make more sense if you know spoken English.

  13. Btw, virginia school for the deaf and blind have started using cued speech for English. I just hope they don't make them use cued speech full time because that would restrict deaf whose first and primary language is ASL from expressing themselves freely.

  14. For personal experience, I've learned ASL far more quickly by hanging out with other deaf (and going through lots of ASL videos online). I've learned other languages, and immersion is the best method I've found. Sure, I come across some PSE and SEE stuff from time to time but I found it sticks out like a sore thumb, so I can ignore it (while getting the point) for the most part.

    I could take ASL classes, I suppose, but being deaf, I kind of resist that to begin with :-P I prefer to go to Deaf venues whenever I can.


  15. See is artificial. Just like changing spoken English to follow ASL syntax would be artificial. It doesnt get any more simple than that.

  16. (Er, for reference, born profoundly deaf, raised w/oral ed, learning ASL way later in adulthood...)


  17. Wow, are we biased here or what? So much question-begging... I hope the "No true Scotsman" fallacy doesn't come out now...

    "the brain is wired to acquire natural languages, not artificial systems." So people can't learn Klingon, Elfish, or even C++?!?! These are all artificial, and yet the brain can pick them up with practice.

    "English and PSE do not make use of the facial and postural inflections of ASL, nor does PSE make use space for language." Aye, but no TRUE PSE signer has NMS in his porridge!

    OK, let me give you a hypothetical. If someone is using SEE sign for sign, but incorporates the facial and spatial aspects of ASL or whatever local SL, is that person still using SEE? And what about just PSE, which is just ASL (NMS and all) switched to English word order?

    Keep in mind that not even verbal English is monotonous - it's got stress and inflection that are shaped around its grammar! So why can't SEE be the same? Maybe it's because its detractors and supporters both have pigeonholed it into that stereotypical "slow and methodical interpreter-for-babies" style which even fails to deliver ASL properly?

    "among the 7 requirements, it must have its own grammar structure, syntax, and can evolve over time. SEE does not fit ANY of the 7 indicators, so it is not an artificial language in the first place. " Really bro? If all SEE is is just English on the hands, then can't it, by analogy, have all the linguistic aspects that verbal AND written English have? And of course, give it some time and SEE can eventually be passed down, albeit in a more "watered-down" type of PSE. That doesn't mean that "old" SEE is any less a language than regulated Standard English is, compared to dialectical English. They'll just form a continuum of dialects that form the Signed English language. As a self-described linguist, you should know this.

    Look, it's not as if the inventors of SEE said that the system is set in stone. And skilled signers should be able to communicate concepts accurately in any system. True, SEE is much harder to master, but in the end, if deaf kids understand things and are able to communicate them back to others, what's the problem?

    Besides, it seems to have worked for Singapore. In fact, I'd love to study how it works in their Deaf community. I've got a feeling that the only real reason (difficulties with the system aside) that SEE hasn't taken off in the US is that the ASL Deaf community keeps pooh-poohing it. It seems that the comments here confirm that.

  18. I think that the reason people are "pooh-poohing" it is not because they think it doesn't work but it is because it seems that they are pushing the Deaf to learn something that is not their natural language. When you're Spanish and you need to learn English, people do not force you to drop Spanish. Just the same as when you already use ASL and HEARING people who do not understand you prefer that you learn SEE2 so they can understand you. Why don't they just develop a way for us to learn English using our natural language --- SEE2! That's why we're "pooh-poohing" it.

  19. Oh sorry I meant to say develop a way for us to learn English using our natural language -- ASL. Hahaha. Must be the heat getting to me.

    Btw, I'm Deaf.

  20. No one speaks in Klingon, Elvin or C++ because/...... they are artificial. :)Even if the brain is wired to pick that up, at least you don't have to speak it all the time, all day and confuse yourself learning English and at the same time, signing in your natural language.

    Deaf people who learn SEE2 still use ASL when they're outside the classroom so it's pointless to even think about SEE2 as being useful.

    My interpreter who uses SEE2 signed "Bear with me" out of context and I have to remember that the BEAR in that sentence doesn't mean an ANIMAL. I am able to because I grew up signing using ASL and then had to move to this country thinking that SEE2 is the natural language here but it is NOTTTT. (another story altogether) Anyway.. she signed it that way. Not all Deaf signers are fluent readers. WHat would young Deaf people think when the interpreter signs that then? "BEAR (ANimal) with me."?????? SEE2 doesn't work.

    Deaf people are visual. ASL is visual. SEE2 is not.

  21. Thank you all for this great discussion. I adopted a severely deaf child when he was 3 (in Brazil). He had no intervention...no signing, no speach therapy, nothing. We had him tested in Brazil and we were able to purchase hearing aids for him. With the hearing aids, he his hearing is within normal limits, although exact frequencies, etc is impossible to test because he can't understand what we are needing him to do in order to test him. Anyway, we were still in Brazil at this point and I was adviced by his speach therapist to NOT use sign language with him because he would not learn to speak if we did. So for 2 years we did not use sign language. (I confess there were some signs that I used...I couldn't help it. Sometimes you need to make sure your child knows what to do.) Now we have been in the US for a few months and a deaf educator told me we absolutely must use sign language. Wow. So now I am faced with what to use...ASL or SEE. The sign language is supposed to just be a visual clue to what he is hearing...so we are leaning towards SEE. But, I am very interested in what the deaf community thinks. I will learn whatever my son needs. Maybe that means both? HELP!!!

  22. There is a difference between Deaf community and Deaf culture. In Deaf community there are more than Deaf people involved there and it's more laid back for lack of a better word. People can use any form of sign. If you're refering to Deaf culture (which I am assuming) you are going to want to learn ASL because it is what is used.
    If you choose to learn ASL find a Deaf teacher not a hearing teacher. Be specific because a Deaf teacher while it may be harder will teach you properly because they use it as their native language compared to a hearing teacher. If you can't find a native ASL teacher your next option would be to find a CODA (child of deaf adults) that uses ASL. I am a 3rd quarter college student and the mixture of people we get it the ones who have hearing teachers have to re-learn a lot of stuff because they were taught wrong.
    Also look at what your school district offers. You may have to fight with them in some cases to provide your child's needs language wise or transfer him to another district. Ours only uses SEE but we use ASL because it's more accepted in the Deaf culture. We want our daughter who is hard of hearing to be able to operate in both the Deaf and hearing cultures as much as possible which is why we went that route.
    Lastly, get involved as much as possible with the Deaf culture. It's a lot quicker than classes and bring your son with you so he can be exposed. He'll pick up on it far faster than you will though so have fun.

  23. Thanks so much for your terrific advice! I definitely see what you mean by finding a deaf person to teach ASL. We are heading back to Brazil in less than a month, so we have many challenges ahead...

  24. I have been Signing Exact English for 2 years for a deaf highschool student. She was the only deaf girl in her class and got better grades than almost all of the hearing students (honor roll). She has graduated and I am frustrated looking for jobs where I can interpret S.E.E.. I understand deaf family and cultures are not interested but I would think hard of hearing and deaf children with hearing parents and or integrated school systems might prefer this system. If anyone is looking for a s.e.e. interpreter in Chicagoland or Houston please let me know!!


Keep it civil.